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The German Federal States

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Germany - the full name being Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany) - consists of 16 federal states. Some people like the German entertainer Harald Schmidt might think that two of them, Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd, would be rather sufficient but that's life...

Even though the division of Germany into federal states often seems to be set up purely by chance, there are many characteristics which are typical for each state. When trying to classify or differentiate the German federal states, a gap between North and South is often mentioned, as well as a divide between East and West (the 'new' and 'old' federal states). The former relates to the differences in economic levels, as the German South is generally better off than the North, due to more industry, higher wages and less unemployment.

The latter point on the other hand refers to the fact that the DDR (German Democratic Republic) only joined the Federal Republic in 1990, and apart from the economic differences - the old West is still better off than the former East - there are still cultural differences, stemming from 40 years of Cold War and the Iron Curtain that divided Germany in two parts. It may be interesting to know that the centrally planned German Democratic Republic was divided not into states, but into smaller administrative districts. So the five eastern federal states are indeed 'new', as they were only founded during Germany's reunification; these are Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

The following description of each federal state is in alphabetical order. If you are looking for more information on a specific state, you can find its official website by putting the German name (change the ü umlaut to 'ue' where appropriate) between 'www.' and '.de'; most of the sites even offer an English translation. Interestingly, a lot of the federal states seem to define themselves by their accessibility via Autobahn, but this entry will try to take things a step further.


Abbreviation  BW
Capital CityStuttgart
Other CitiesFreiburg, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Mannheim

Baden-Württemberg is in the southwest of Germany and is often described as Musterländle (model state) because of the inhabitants' legendary thrift, diligence and cleanliness - there are several 'Cleaning Days' throughout the year, and on these days even the dustbins have to be cleaned internally! It adjoins France, Switzerland and Austria; the neighbouring federal states are Hesse, Rheno-Palatinate and Bavaria. Interestingly, although the received opinion is that the whole of Baden-Wurttemberg is synonymous with Swabia, or Schwaben, in fact only part of Swabia lies in Wurttemberg, the rest being in Bavaria.

Geographically, Baden-Württemberg consists of the upper Rhine plain in the west, the low-mountain range in the northeast, and the Black Forest, the Swabian Jura and upper Swabia in the southeast. The whole state is notoriously attractive to tourists, partly due to the fine climate; especially popular are the Black Forest and the Bodensee (Lake Constance), so be warned. Gourmands please note that a lot of Germany's best and most celebrated chefs work in this state (mostly in the Black Forest), and you can expect very good food even in the not so well-known and expensive restaurants. This is often attributed to French influences. Due to climate and soil, Baden-Württemberg is considered to have Germany's best wine-growing areas, so some of Germany's best wines come from Baden and Württemberg. Interestingly, larger quantities of wine are produced in Württemberg than in Baden, but you'll see very little Württemberg wine outside of Württemberg because most of it is consumed locally. The Baden wine is mostly for export.

The historical roots of today's Baden-Württemberg are quite diverse. Until the beginning of the 19th Century, there was a pattern of small states on the map, of Württemberg, Baden-Baden, Baden-Durlach, areas belonging to the Hohenzollern dynasty, independent cities, glebe areas, and even areas under Austrian reign. Each monarch was free to decide on his people's religion, and so Baden-Württemberg is still a mix of Catholic and Protestant areas. Today's state was founded in 1952 out of the French and American-occupied zones of Württemberg-Baden, South Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollern, which were themselves set up rather arbitrarily.

Bayern (Bavaria)

Abbreviation  BY
Capital CityMünchen (Munich)
Other CitiesAugsburg, Nürnberg (Nuremberg), Passau, Regensburg, Würzburg

The Freistaat Bayern (Free State1 of Bavaria) is the biggest and southernmost state of Germany, bordering on Austria and the Czech Republic; the neighbouring federal states are Baden-Württemberg and Hesse to the west and Thuringia and Saxony to the north. As Bavaria has always been a state with a very powerful economy (despite its roots in agriculture), it has a great deal of influence on federal politics, thus coining the view that Munich is the secret capital of Germany. From times when Prussia2 and Bavaria were still independent kingdoms in the 18th Century, many Bavarians harbour an aversion to the Prussians, so much that they are sometimes accused of having separatist intentions.

Not all inhabitants of this state call themselves Bavarian, however; besides the historic Bavaria3, there is also Franconia in the North and Swabia in the West. Bavaria has varied types of landscape, namely the Bavarian Alps, the Alpine foothills, the lower mountain range in the East and the Swabian-Franconian scarp land. Due to this, there's everything for the tourist from skiing, hiking, mountain scrambling and sightseeing to relaxing by one of the numerous lakes. The best-known city is surely Munich, which is especially crowded during the Oktoberfest, an event where loads of tourists from all over the world drink their Mass4 in a big tent with a hundreds of other visitors, enduring the traditional brass-band music.

The history of Bavaria dates back to the 5th Century, when, according to a popular theory, remaining Roman troops, Celts and Teutons formed the first Bavarian tribe. The Bavarian Duchy was founded by Henry the Lion in the 10th Century, and was later given to the Wittelsbach dynasty, who ruled for over 700 years. It became a kingdom in 1806 as Max I was crowned. Perhaps the best-known king of Bavaria though is Ludwig II (nicknamed the 'Fairytale King') who in his later life devoted himself to castle-building and to the captivating world of Wagner's music. The Monarchy ended after the First World War, and the Freistaat Bayern was founded.


Abbreviation  BE
Capital CityBerlin

Berlin is a so-called Stadtstaat, or city state, meaning the federal state of Berlin consists only of the city of Berlin. Berlin is not only Germany's capital, it is also Germany's largest city, having approximately twice as many inhabitants as Hamburg. It lies within Brandenburg, and there have been thoughts of making one state, 'Berlin-Brandenburg' of these two; however this has been rejected in a referendum.

Many regard Berlin as one of the most exciting places in the world, with cultural and social events multiplying since Germany's reunification. Besides that, Berlin has a lot to offer for tourists, as many tourist guides will tell you. There are loads of museums to see, sightseeing (especially recommended are the museum island, Reichstag and Charlottenburg Palace), shopping and enjoying the night life come to mind. Just don't try to be brave and go by car, it's better to use public transport.

Berlin is a relatively young city, at least compared with other European capitals; it only dates back to the 13th Century. It eventually became the residence of King Frederic I of Prussia in the 18th Century, and its importance increased with King Frederic II 'the Great', who made it a centre of arts and science during his reign. It became the German Empire's capital in 1871.

Berlin's more recent history is slightly more eventful - from the Reichstag fire to the death of Hitler in his bunker, it reflected the rise and fall of the Nazi regime. Due to World War II, the partly damaged Berlin was split into four allied sectors; the sectors of the western allies (France, Great Britain and the USA) later became West Berlin, the Russian part became East Berlin. In 1948, the Soviets imposed a blockade on West Berlin, so that the western sectors had to be supplied by air. In 1961, the Berlin Wall was built by the Socialist regime in East Berlin to prevent a massive flight of workers to the West. This led to an even stricter separation of East and West Germany, and West Germans were only allowed to cross the border to East Germany via three crossings, the most famous being Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.

The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989 after the continuous deterioration of the DDR economy and mass protests of the population, demanding freedom of movement and travel (known as Reisefreiheit). On 3 October, 1990 the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany, and Berlin and Germany were both reunified. Berlin then became Germany's capital, and by a vote of parliament in 1991 it was decided to relocate the seat of government back from Bonn to Berlin.


Abbreviation  BR
Capital CityPotsdam
Other CitiesBrandenburg, Cottbus, Frankfurt (Oder)

Brandenburg is in the northeast of Germany; it borders Poland and the federal states Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and, not to forget, Berlin. Regarding the fact that the historical capital of Brandenburg has always been Berlin, it seems to be a bit odd that Berlin and Brandenburg are separate federal states nowadays.

Geographically, Brandenburg belongs to the northern German lowland and its landscape is therefore mainly flat, with a scenery of lakes and rivers stemming from the last Ice Age. These areas (the Spreewald for instance) are Brandenburg's main tourist attractions today.

The history of Brandenburg dates back to the 8th Century, but the Brandenburg Electorate was not founded until 1169. At the beginning of the 18th Century, with the coronation of the Prussian King Frederic I, Brandenburg became a part of Kingdom of Prussia, and together with the Prussian capital Berlin, one of the major political powers in Europe. After World War II, Brandenburg lost some of its districts east of the Oder and Neisse rivers to Poland, became a part of the Soviet occupation zone (later German Democratic Republic), and was divided into three districts. It became a federal state after Germany's reunification.


Abbreviation  HB
Capital CityBremen

The Freie Hansestadt Bremen (Free Hanseatic City of Bremen) is Germany's smallest federal state. It is also a Stadtstaat, but actually consists of two cities, namely Bremen and Bremerhaven. They are about 60km apart in Niedersachsen. Both cities are connected to the North Sea by the river Weser, which has made them a major seaport in Germany. Since medieval times, trade and merchandise has been extremely important to Bremen's economy and even now virtually all of Germany's coffee imports are via Bremen. The seaports are specialised: bulk freight and general cargo is turned over mainly in Bremen, while Bremerhaven, which is nearer to the North Sea and thus provides deeper fairways for bigger ships, has several big container terminals, handles car imports and is also a major seaport for landing frozen fish.

Apart from visiting the seaport, there are quite a few things to see: the historic town centre (don't forget to visit the Schnoor quarter), museums depicting Bremen's history and a number of Parks to relax in.

Bremen dates back to the 8th Century; most of its history is influenced by the seaport, travel and merchandise. As a member of the Hanse (Hanseatic League)5, it has had mercantile connections to Scandinavia and the Baltic states since the 12th Century. The traditional fraternity dinner Schaffermahlzeit has its origin in these times. In 1646, Bremen became independent and with the end of the German Empire in 1806 got the status of 'Free Hanseatic Town'. In 1947, Bremen and Bremerhaven became a federal state, regaining the level of autonomy which had been lost during Nazi rule.

Bremerhaven, on the other hand, is relatively young: it was only founded in 1827 as an outer port for Bremen, and even today the whole economy centres around the seaport, hence the nickname 'Fishtown'. At the beginning of the 20th Century Bremerhaven served as a major centre of emigration (at this time emigration to America was at its peak); the emigrants were seen as a source of income for ship-owners and were relatively well cared for during their stay in Bremerhaven. Just recently, the Auswandererhaus was opened, a museum to reflect this part of history.


Abbreviation  HH
Capital CityHamburg

The Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg (Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg) is in northern Germany, embedded between Niedersachsen and Schleswig-Holstein and is the second largest city in Germany. Hamburg's economy is mainly focused around the seaport, but it is also a major media centre and, with more than 60,000 students, one of the biggest university towns in Germany. Regarding the seaport, there has always been a rivalry with Bremen, which continues to this day. And just in case you didn't know before, a Hamburger is a citizen of Hamburg, not only a part of a fast-food diet.

The main tourist attraction in Hamburg is the seaport; it is considered a must to take a boat trip around the harbour. There's not so much of an historic town as in other cities due to the World War II bombings, but the Town Hall, Jungfernstieg and the historic loft buildings (Speicherstadt) are still impressive. And, of course, there's the famous red-light district, the Reeperbahn. This has lost much of its grubbiness in the last few years and it is indeed fashionable for respectable citizens to invite visitors for a midnight stroll and a visit to a raunchy nightclub.

The first settlements of Hamburg were built in the 8th Century, not on the river Elbe but at the Alster. It was granted city rights in 1189 and became a member of the Hanseatic League, and, since the 16th Century, Hamburg has been a major seaport for the trade with America. Hamburg wasn't a big city until mid-19th Century when it had around 50,000 inhabitants, after which it grew rapidly due to the industrialisation process. Major events on the city's timeline include a big fire in 1842, where about a third of the city was destroyed, the Allied bombings of 1943 where tens of thousand people died, and the storm tide of 1962 that flooded large sections of Hamburg and northern Germany.

Hessen (Hesse)

Abbreviation  HE
Capital CityWiesbaden
Other CitiesDarmstadt, Frankfurt (Main), Kassel, Offenbach

Hesse is situated in the middle of Germany, bordering the federal states of Rheno-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Thuringia, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Once mainly agricultural, Hesse now focuses on technology and industry, which is mainly in the western Rhine-Main area - Frankfurt, as Germany's financial capital, has the country's largest airport. People living in Hesse are said to have the second-most-awful dialect in Germany, directly following the Saxons.

Geographically, Hesse is dominated by low-range mountains that are spread throughout the country, such as Rhön, Odenwald, Taunus, and Spessart6. On the southern slope of these, large apple cultures could often be found, just in case you wondered where all the Ebbelwoi (apple wine) comes from. Besides mountains there is of course the Rhine-Main area, the Upper Rhine lowland plain and the plains in the north - for example, in the Kassel area.

Hesse was first mentioned in the 8th Century in a letter from Pope Gregory III where he spoke of the people of Hesse (Populus Hassiorum). Starting in the Middle Ages, Hesse's different counties were under changing rule until it became a major political power under the reign of Philip I 'the Generous' in the 16th Century; this could be seen as the predecessor of today's Hesse. After his death, it was split up and reunited until it eventually became the Prussian province of Kurhessen (Electorate of Hesse) in 1868, later 'People's State of Hesse' and 'Great Hesse'. After World War II, it was proclaimed a federal state on 19 September, 1945 by the American supreme commander Dwight D Eisenhower.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania)

Abbreviation  MVP
Capital CitySchwerin
Other CitiesGreifswald, Rostock, Stralsund, Wismar

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is in the northeast and is the most sparsely-populated state of Germany. It is on the Baltic Sea, and borders Poland and the federal states Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Brandenburg. The economy is mainly based on agriculture and, thanks to the beaches on the Baltic coast, tourism. Everything is said to be slow in Mac-Pomm (its nickname, can roughly be translated 'Mac-Fries') - there's the saying 'When the end of the world is near, just go to Mecklenburg; everything is 100 years late there', attributed to Bismarck, German Chancellor in the 19th Century.

The Mecklenburg part of this federal state consists of West Mecklenburg, the coastal region with its islands and peninsulas, the Mecklenburg Jura (yes, mountains, but don't expect anything like the Alps) and the Mecklenburg lakelands. Western Pomerania is to the east, bordering Poland. Of interest to tourists is of course the coast region with its historic seaside resorts of Rügen and Usedom for instance, and also the lakelands in the southern part, even if you're not keen on fishing trips.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has its origin in the 6th Century, where the first Slavic tribes settled in the area. Christianisation began in the 11th Century and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania eventually became a duchy; nearly all of the bigger cities along the coast were members of the Hanseatic League, which granted them wealth and influence. The 18th Century (and also the 19th and early 20th Century, hence the Bismarck quote above) is characterised by large-scale landowners in the rural areas and not much else. In the 19th Century, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania fell under Prussian influence and became a part of the German Empire. After World War II, it was occupied by the Soviets and became a part of the German Democratic Republic; it became a federal state in Germany's reunification in 1990.

Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony)

Abbreviation  NS
Capital CityHannover (Hanover)
Other CitiesBraunschweig (Brunswick), Emden, Osnabrück, Göttingen

Lower Saxony is the second biggest federal state, a Flächenstaat (or big country with few people) still characterised by agriculture. It is on the North Sea, bordering the Netherlands and no less than nine other federal states - North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg and also Bremen. People living in the more rural areas often speak Plattdeutsch (Low German) among themselves, a language virtually incomprehensible to anyone not born there.

The federal state of Lower Saxony extends from the River Ems in the West to the River Elbe in the east, and from the North Sea and the Frisian islands to the Weser lower mountain range and the Harz Mountains in the south. Hence it is a diverse state, not just topographically, but also with regard to its people and their mentality. The northern and western part of Lower Saxony is still mostly agriculture, except the coastal region with its tourism. More industry and greater wealth can be found in the eastern part in a broad region around the capital Hanover, where for instance Volkswagen is located - in Wolfsburg to be exact. The capital Hanover itself is perhaps known from the big computer fair CeBIT held every spring. The very eastern part though - the part bordering the Iron Curtain before the Reunification - is somewhat sleepy, a consequence of the 40 years of separation.

Historically, Lower Saxony dates back until the 9th Century, when it was the main part of the then-Duchy of Saxony, which included nearly all of northern Germany from the Netherlands to the Baltic states. It was divided into more than 40 small counties in 1180, and from then on it got really complicated. It was only in the 17th Century when the different principalities fell under the rule of the Hanover Electoral Prince7 and it was possible to speak again of a unified state. It consisted of four Duchies and lasted until 1946 when it became the federal state of Lower Saxony.

Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia)

Abbreviation  NRW
Capital CityDüsseldorf
Other CitiesAachen, Bonn, Dortmund, Essen, Köln (Cologne)

North Rhine-Westphalia is situated in the very west of Germany and is the most populous federal state. It borders Belgium, the Netherlands and the federal states Lower Saxony, Hesse and Rheno-Palatinate. Within its borders is Germany's most industrialised region, the Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr district), and many people only think of steel industry and coal miners when hearing of North Rhine Westphalia. The truth is, however, that the greater part of this federal state is rural and hilly.

The state extends from the Westphalian plateau in the northeast to the mountain ranges of the Sauerland, Bergisches Land and Siegerland in the South; in the west there's the Eifel, which is a landscape of volcanic origin, and the lower Rhine plateau in the southwest. The aforementioned Ruhr district, named after the Ruhr river, is in the centre of North Rhine-Westphalia and is an agglomeration of several large cities (Duisburg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund to name but the biggest) that merge into each other. The main tourist areas are of course mainly the mountainous parts in the south, especially the Sauerland.

Historically, North Rhine-Westphalia was not a single state until 1946; before that date, Westphalia, the Rhine provinces and the Free State of Lippe (a long independent state situated in the east of North Rhine-Westphalia) have always been separate principalities. To begin with Westphalia, it was a part of the Duchy of Saxony from the 12th Century and became a Prussian province in the early 19th Century. The northern Rhine Province was originally a part of the Rheinland, which was a Prussian province consisting of several duchies and principalities. The southern districts of the Rhineland now belong to the federal state of Rheno-Palatinate.

Rheinland-Pfalz (Rheno-Palatinate)

Abbreviation  RP
Capital CityMainz
Other CitiesKaiserslautern, Koblenz (Coblenz), Ludwigshafen, Trier

The Rheno-Palatinate is in the southwest of Germany and borders Belgium, Luxembourg, France and the federal states North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Baden-Wurttemberg. It is a major wine-growing region - a lot of Germany's white wine and sparkling wine comes from here - and also has regions living off agriculture, but is also one of the more industrialised federal states in Germany, with an emphasis on chemical and metal-processing industry.

Geographically, Rheno-Palatinate consists mainly of the Eifel, Hunsrück and Taunus mountains in the North and the Palatinate in the South. Perhaps the main feature and tourist attraction of this state is the landscape of the Moselle and Rhine Valley with its scenery and places of historic interest along its course, including Koblenz, Mainz, Trier and Worms.

The Rheno-Palatinate in its present form is a state whose borders were set up rather arbitrarily (much like North Rhine-Westphalia); it was founded after World War II out of the southern districts of the Rhineland, the Palatinate and some former Hessian provinces. Therefore, the different parts do not have many historical roots in common. The southern Rhineland provinces have their origin in the 18th Century as parts of the Prussian state; the Palatinate dates back to the 12th Century, when it was an electoral county in the German Empire. Some of the major cities in the Rhine valley have a much longer history however; cities like Coblenz, Mainz and Trier have their origin in pre-Roman times and so are more than 2,000 years old.


Abbreviation  SL
Capital CitySaarbrücken
Other CitiesHomburg, Neunkirchen, Saarlouis

The Saarland is in the southwest of Germany and is the smallest 'regular' (non-city) federal state, known for its coal mining and steel industry. It borders Luxembourg, France and Rheno-Palatinate. The inhabitants are said to be more of the connoisseur-type than the rest of Germany, which may have to do something with the proximity to France and the history of changing hands between France and Germany. Because the Saarland is so tiny, two native Saarländer that do not already know each other will at least have some common acquaintances.

The state got its name from the Saar river; it is one of most densely wooded federal states. It extends from the parts of the Hunsrück mountain, over the Lothrian scarpland to the Saar-Nahe Mountains; the Palatinate forest is also partly in the Saarland. With its history dating back well into Roman times, this state is suitable for the tourist with historical interests.

The first known settlements in the Saar area are from the Paleolithic Age and are about 100,000 years old. The region was part of the Roman Empire until its demise; until the late Middle Ages it consisted of different principalities. In the late 17th Century, France made a single Saar province out of several smaller districts, but had to abandon it in favour of Bavaria and later Prussia. It became a French province again in 1793, until in 1798 when the southern part fell to Prussia. After World War I, it became French again - until 1935. Saarland's more left-wing and liberal parties initially tried to remain independent from the Third Reich, but in a referendum the majority voted in favour of rejoining Germany. After World War II, the Saarland was yet again French, until its people decided in a referendum to join the Federal Republic of Germany. The Saarland in its present form was founded in 1957 and it is therefore the youngest of the 'old' federal states.

Sachsen (Saxony)

Abbreviation  SN
Capital CityDresden
Other CitiesChemnitz, Leipzig, Zwickau

The Freistaat Sachsen is situated in the southeast of Germany and borders Poland, the Czech Republic and the federal states Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Bavaria. Many people from western Germany think that the Saxons have the most awful German dialect, which may well be attributed to the times of the DDR, where one couldn't cross the inner German border without being bullied by Saxonian-speaking border officials. Of course this a bit unfair when you consider that a similar dialect is also spoken in other southeastern federal states. Of the 'new' federal states, Saxony is the one with the strongest economy, although a lot of the former state-owned enterprises were unprofitable and had to be shut after the Reunification.

Geographically, Saxony can be divided into the lowland plains in the northwest, the hilly landscapes in the central and in the southern part, extending from West to East, the low-mountain range of Vogtland, the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) and the Lusitia region (Lausitz). Of special interest besides the historic inner city of Dresden and the mountain areas may be the Saxonian Jura, which is a well-known climbing region.

The Duchy of Saxony was founded in the 10th Century by Henry I of Germany; later it was ruled by different dynasties, lost and gained territories - a major one being Poland. From the 18th Century on, there were several armed conflicts with Prussia, which eventually (Congress of Vienna 1815) led to the loss of the Polish Crown and other territories to Prussia. From then on, Saxony was an independent kingdom under Friedrich August I and his successors until 1871, when it became a part of the newly-founded German Empire. The Free State of Saxony was founded in 1918 after World War I when King Friedrich August III resigned; it ceased to exist in 1934. After World War II, it was occupied by the Soviets and later became a part of the German Democratic Republic; after Germany's reunification in 1990 the Free State of Saxony was refounded.

Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony-Anhalt)

Abbreviation  ST
Capital CityMagdeburg
Other CitiesBitterfeld, Dessau, Halle (Saale), Stendal

Saxony-Anhalt is one of the eastern federal states, situated in the centre of Germany. It borders Lower Saxony, Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg. The northern part is sparsely populated; this area is famous for its good soil and is therefore still dominated by agriculture. Most people live in the middle and southern part where more industry is, although the industry is suffering a crisis since Germany's reunification.

Most of the state consists of plains (a major part is the Magdeburger Börde in the north), but it becomes more hilly in the eastern part of the Harz mountains in the southwest and the foothills of Thuringia in the south.

What is now Saxony-Anhalt was an important part and a cultural centre of Germany in the early Middle Ages - a lot of the state's historical buildings stem from that time. Perhaps the most important event in the state's (and perhaps also in Europe's) history happened on 31 October, 1517, when Martin Luther published his 95 theses in Wittenberg - this led to the Reformation and eventually to the Thirty Years War.

Saxony-Anhalt has its origins in the former Anhalt (capital Dessau) and the province of Saxony, the capital being Magdeburg. Anhalt's history dates back to the 9th Century, when it belonged to the Duchy of Saxony. Later on it was divided into different districts that were granted the status of duchies by Napoleon, reunifying as Anhalt again in 1863. In 1918 Anhalt became a state within the Weimar Republic. The province of Saxony (not to be confused with the Duchy, later Kingdom of Saxony) on the other hand was only created in 1816 out of different territories belonging to Prussia. Today's federal state was founded in 1990 shortly before Germany's reunification.


Abbreviation  SH
Capital CityKiel
Other CitiesFlensburg, Lübeck, Neumünster

Schleswig-Holstein is the most northern federal state, situated in the south of the Jutland peninsula, between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. It borders Denmark, Lower Saxony, Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Having two long coastlines makes Schleswig-Holstein a popular choice for tourists, especially the North Sea island of Sylt, which is notoriously crowded with the rich and famous. A word of warning, though - the mainland North Sea coast rarely has any beaches and is rather muddy. If you ever wondered what a Wattenmeer is, that's it - mud flats. That's why everybody prefers to go to Sylt, by the way.

Going from west to east, the landscape develops from the aforementioned Wattenmeer (which is a national park) to mostly flat in the West and the more hilly part in the southeast, the Holsteinische Schweiz (Holstein Jura), and, not forgetting Lauenburg in the south. The Baltic Sea coast is rather picturesque, with inlets, cliffs and small bays, making this area interesting for tourists.

Schleswig-Holstein's history has largely to do with its relation to Denmark, and has in fact been mostly Danish during its history. Schleswig (the northern part of the state) was once part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and also the Duchy of Holstein (founded in the 8th Century) belonged to Denmark at times. You can imagine that both the Danish and German rulers' claims for these provinces led to numerous wars between the countries. Only in the Second War of Schleswig in 18638 did Denmark lose Schleswig and Holstein to Prussia; this was partly revised after World War I, when after a referendum in 1920, North Schleswig was returned to Denmark. The borders established then are still the borders of today, and both the Danish minority in Germany and the German minority in Denmark are granted special rights to protect their language and culture - this is somewhat of a tradition, as this rule stems from King Frederic VII of Denmark (Schleswig Constitution, 1848).

Thüringen (Thuringia)

Abbreviation  TH
Capital CityErfurt
Other CitiesEisenach, Gera, Jena, Weimar

The Freistaat Thüringen is in central Germany, borders Hesse, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony and is probably best known for the sausages - the Thüringer Rostbratwurst. But of course there's more than sausages: castles9 and culture - Bach, Goethe and Schiller lived and worked in Thuringia. Education was deemed important, and general compulsory school education was introduced in the Duchy of Saxony-Gotha as early as 1642.

The main geographical feature is the Thuringian Forest mountain chain in the southwest, but there are also the foothills of the Harz mountains in the northwest, while the eastern part is mostly flat. Tourism in Thuringia is not very mainstream, centering mostly around history, arts and culture.

The name 'Thuringia' (or 'Thuringians') was first mentioned in the 4th Century by a Roman historian and the area was an independent kingdom until it became a part of the Franconian Empire in the 6th Century. In the 10th Century it came under Saxon rule, and was then ruled by the Ludowing and later the Wettin dynasty. In the 15th Century, Thuringia as a whole ceased to exist and was divided into several Thuringian states; these were reunited in 1920 during the Weimar Republic, except Saxe-Coburg which became a part of Bavaria. After World War II, Thuringia became part of the DDR and was divided again in 1952 into three districts, but was reunited once again to become the Free State of Thuringia during Germany's reunification in 1990.

1This does not mean a special independence but is used to emphasise that it is ruled by the people, not by a sovereign.2Prussia is not a federal state but a former German kingdom, which was a major political power in Europe at its height in the 18th and 19th Century.3Most people seem to have in mind the 'original Bavarian' wearing the typical leather shorts with suspenders, a long ZZ Top-like beard and a hat with a shaving brush (Gamsbart) on top. But that's mostly for tourists.4A litre (about two pints) of especially-brewed beer in a mug.5An affiliation between up to 200 cities in Europe with the aim to promote and secure merchandise; lasting from the 12th until the mid-17th Century.6OK, most of the Spessart is actually in Bavaria.7This dynasty still has a connection to the English Monarchy since Electoral Prince Georg Ludwig became George I, King of the United Kingdom in 1714. The British monarchs were also Electors of Hanover until Queen Victoria.8The first one was 1848 - 51, just in case you wanted to know.9193 towns had one or more castles, the most commonly known is the Wartburg near Eisenach, where Martin Luther was granted protection and where he translated the Latin Bible to German.

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